Let's look at three minicomics that focus on different aspects of darkness, horror and fear.
Moral Geometry #2, by Sean Andress. Of the three artists discussed here, Andress' comic is the most conventional. This is a straight-up horror comic with a silent, dream logic narrative. Andress' line is thick and rubbery with dense hatching; the result is a page that looks like partly like it's melting and partly like its decaying. Andress goes for grotesque overload, overpowering the reader with intense but clear images that nonetheless have a fairly simple through line and a dark sense of humor. The action follows a sort of bizarre performance as a man with a crown looks down a hall to find a demonic creature tossing an object that's part head and part balloon at a blindfolded creature with a spike sticking out of its mouth; the effect is that it's some sort of strange party game. The more interesting story finds a family of lumpen figures sitting down at a table for dinner. The putative father figure pierces a roast, which squirts blood into the mouths of everyone at the table. Things go horribly awry as a particularly disgusting birth occurs, the new creature threatens the house we see at the beginning of the book and the man with the crown laughs in fun. This is less a coherent narrative than a series of loosely connected images, and Andress revels in the excess of his images in panel after panel. Despite the violence and gore, this comic really is pinned to a humorous sort of logic, which puts it a step above a splatterfest that is simply trying for shock.
Various comics by Ibrahim Ineke. The Netherlands-based artist specializes in an oblique depiction of fear. Using a ballpoint pen, white-out and a photocopier, Ineke creates whirling environments of black and white shadows enveloping his characters, and as a result, the reader. "Empty Quarter" finds a man walking a lonely city street receiving a piece of paper that falls from above. Opening it up, it seems to lead him to a seemingly empty but creepy building. After fleeing the building, he falls, the piece of paper flying out of his hand. As a clever, gimmick, Ineke inserted a blank but stained and folded piece of paper into the back of the comic, as though it fluttered out of the comic. Like all of his comics, it's marked by extremely dense hatching marked with streaks of white. "In Prism" is a story whose title winds up being a dark play on words, as a hotel manager investigates an Alistair Crowley-type mystic and whether or not he and his order are abusing his young niece, who is "a medium". Unlike most of this stories, this one mostly concerns its figures rather than its environment, and the result is a scratchy, expressionistic approach. This is his most conventional story to date, though its end has quite a visual kick to it. Finally, there's the untitled, magazine-size comic that features a boy and girl and unnamed horror. The boy happens to see a corpse with no face when on a business trip with his father and uses this image to terrify and coerce the girl. The story has a hallucinatory quality, as the faceless corpse (all the more terrifying because he has a few teeth left in his jaw) suddenly appears in a sequence where reality seems quite fluid, resulting in the children losing their faces and then page after page of people at the ocean, waves crashing and dragging a woman down. The book segues into a sequence where a woman is in a curiosity shop buys an item that draws unwelcome company. Once again, Ineke shifts between the power of the intense, individual image and the need to relate a narrative. This is certainly his most ambitious comic, given its length, recurring images and stunning use of his tools to create a dense environment of light and darkness that demands its readers to engage it fully, peeking into the darkest cracks to suss out meaning.
Too Dark To See, by Julia Gfrorer. Of all the work discussed in this column, Gfrorer's comic is by far the most disturbing. Using a clear, light line, lots of open space and a minimal use of blacks, Grfrorer nonetheless crafts a story that's terrifying because of its implications. Grfrorer's themes frequently revolve around the supernatural, sex, death and lies. This story is a bizarre mash-up of a typical slice-of-life relationship story and a horrifying supernatural story of sexual violation, lies and distance. The story is simple: a 20-something couple is lying in bed asleep when a female shadow creature seduces the man by first going down on him and then saying that she'll go away if he'll have sex with her, saying "I just need your cum". While his girlfriend never finds out about this encounter, it casts a long figurative shadow over their relationship as he immediately becomes more distant and she immediately becomes more paranoid. When she finds "something black" on her genitals, she accuses him of cheating, but the implication of what she might be afflicted is especially chilling. The ending is ambiguous, as there is a segue between the aftermath of the couple arguing and the shadow creature and her lover coalescing and mocking the couple for naming their imminent baby with a "hipster grandpa name". The implication, of course, is that the male shadow had sex with the woman and impregnated her. This is a truly grim story, and perhaps its bleakest aspect is how easily the shadows were able to get exactly what they wanted from the couple, even as the first page of the book showed how much in love they supposedly were. Gfrorer has carved out a unique place in comics with her subject matter and every new comic she releases is worthy of close attention.